Rafa Benitez is starting to realise why Real Madrid's bench is commonly described as the most-demanding in world football, just three months after he was appointed to replace Carlo Ancelotti. Benitez has been put under scrutiny by the Spanish press from the moment he got through the door due to his defensive tactics, and this weekend's goalless draw against newly promoted Sporting Gijon in the La Liga opener has given the doubters new ammo.
Real Madrid have failed to score a goal in five of the nine games played under Benitez, despite having the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez at his disposal. The former Liverpool boss said he believed the Spanish giants produced enough chances to win at Gijon, but both Marca and AS are unconvinced.
Spain's two biggest sports newspapers – whose readerships are both traditionally Real Madrid supporters – have started questioning what is going wrong at the Santiago Bernabeu, and all fingers are pointing at the bench.
Marca notes that Ronaldo is enjoying his joint worst start to a new season since his arrival from Manchester United in summer 2009, having scored only one goal in six games. The Spanish publication says that "stats appear to reinforce the theory that the Portuguese star has not yet settled into Benítez's new-look Real Madrid side".
Ronaldo had clashed with Benitez earlier in the pre-season, after the new manager refused to call CR7 "the best player in the world".
AS, meanwhile, has questioned Benitez's decision to bench Rodriguez in the La Liga opener, suggesting the boss is confusing his attacking players as has "has mortgaged his line-up on Bale's ability to shine" in the number 10 role.
"Bale and Isco trod on each other's toes more than once. The Wales international got tangled up with Ronaldo when he drifted to the left. And Bale and Jesé obstructed each other because neither was playing in their natural position. The result was a convulsive forward line, more based on resolution than an intelligent and co-ordinated attack," AS said.
AS head editor Alfredo Relaño also layed into Benitez's defensive approach to the game in his daily column, pointing out that he had included three defenders and just one forward in his "miserly" bench – leaving both Denis Cheryshev and Lucas Vazquez out the squad.
"Looking at Real Madrid's bench in Gijón, you could find a substitute goalkeeper, as is habitual, three defenders (Dani Carvajal, Pepe and Nacho), a defensive midfielder (Casemiro), an attacking midfielder (the brand-new Mateo Kovacic) and a number 10 (James). The latter was the closest thing Real had to a forward to reinforce the attacking effort. Four defenders had three replacements available, but four forwards had just one in the Colombian. Karim Benzema is injured, fine. But Denis Cheryshev was left out of the squad in Gijón and Lucas Vázquez watched the game from the stands," Relaño wrote.